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Liam Boyce hopeful Hearts relegation won't mean more Northern Ireland heartache while Kyle Lafferty weighs up future

 

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Liam Boyce is among four Northern Ireland internationals currently playing for Hearts.

Liam Boyce is among four Northern Ireland internationals currently playing for Hearts.

Liam Boyce is among four Northern Ireland internationals currently playing for Hearts.

Maybe new Northern Ireland manager Ian Baraclough can book the guest room at Michael O'Neill's house in Edinburgh.

The recently-appointed chief, when the football world returns to something resembling normality, will spend plenty of time taking in matches across England and Scotland as he watches his hopeful squad members in club action.

The numbers game would suggest that Hearts' Tynecastle Stadium in the Scottish capital will become a regular haunt.

It's the hope, at least, of the club's star striker Liam Boyce, who is joined in the squad by three compatriots in Conor Washington, Michael Smith and Bobby Burns.

Another could yet be added to their number if the club could afford to bring currently unattached Kyle Lafferty back for a second spell after he confirmed earlier this week he would return to what he called an 'amazing club'.

Whether it's four or five Northern Irishmen, Boyce is hoping that the club's relegation, which will be confirmed should their legal attempt to overturn the decision fail, won't count against them when Baraclough comes to name his squad for the Nations League and, more importantly, the Euro 2020 play-offs later this year.

“I don’t really see it as an issue," he told the Edinburgh Evening News. "When I was at Ross County, which is not a massive club in Scotland, I was scoring goals and playing well. International football goes on form and that’s how you get picked in squads.

“If I’m scoring goals for Hearts then I’m sure enough that I’ll be getting picked. International football is massive so if I’m playing well I will have to force a way in whatever way I can. For me, that’s by scoring goals."

As he admits, Boyce knows all about missing the mark internationally, having lost out on the fourth forward place in the squad for the Euro 2016 finals to Will Grigg.

He would bounce back by being crowned the Scottish Premiership's top scorer the very next season and since then has been a regular in Northern Ireland squads.

“I want to get the chance to go to a major tournament with Northern Ireland," he said. "It does put more pressure on you to play well, but I’ve experienced not getting picked. That will give me extra motivation to keep doing well."

Boyce had scored two league goals in eight appearances since arriving at Hearts in January, when he was brought in on a three-and-a-half year deal with the task of shooting the club to Premiership survival.

He may well have done it, if given the chance, as Hearts were just four points shy of Hamilton with eight games to go when the season was brought to a premature halt.

Boyce feels the relegation was a largely unfair blow and reiterated his commitment to helping the club back to the top table of Scottish football.

"They have put a lot of faith in me to bring me here and I just want to repay them," he said. I’ve always stuck with the team I’ve been at no matter where I’ve gone in my career.

“I’ve always been like that and I will always give everything to my club. I’ll just keep doing that, it won’t be any different."

Fellow striker Washington has another year to run on his own Hearts deal and, after overcoming a hamstring injury that hampered his first half of the season, was optimistic he was hitting top form have scored in two matches on the trot before the sporting shutdown.

As he also looks to stake his Northern Ireland claim in maroon, Kyle Lafferty is determined to heighten the competition for forward places in the international panel.

After the 32-year-old's short-term deal at Sunderland came to an end, he's on the look-out for a new club and told the Open Goal podcast that, as well as a return to Hearts, he's also open to another move out of the UK.

"I love going abroad," said the striker who has previously played for clubs in Switzerland, Italy, Turkey and Norway.

"Everything that comes with it, training in the afternoon, having a coffee in the sun. It's a different feeling. I think my game suits abroad."

At least that might be a trip to sunnier climbs for new Northern Ireland boss Baraclough.

Belfast Telegraph